Home Office vs Jacqui Smith

Many of you will already know about this government’s outrageous proposal to put together a ‘big brother’ database, which would retain records of all phonecalls, emails and internet visits by everyone. Of course it’s another instance of this illiberal government rescinding the basics of the presumption of privacy and innocence in civil society in favour of protecting the electorate from terrorism. Again they wilfully misinterpret the fundamentals of civil liberties, by conflating human rights with government’s responsibility to protect its citizenry – check out Geoff Hoon:

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the government is prepared to go “quite a long way” with civil liberties to “stop terrorists killing people”.

“If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don’t have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.”

He added: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.”

(with thanks to ukliberty)

There is no human right not to be killed by a terrorist – that’s not what human rights mean. By conflating the terminology he justifies government attacking human rights in order better to provide ‘protection’. Yet the Conservatives don’t support this game:

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said pulling all the information together in a central server, to be managed by government, “represents a very profound change in the relationship between the state and the citizen”.

Exactly. As with ID cards, the government is trying to rewrite the relationship between the citizen and the state, which I find fundamentally unacceptable. It’s not just me though, it turns out the Home Office itself is combatting Home Secretary Jacqui Smith:

Yesterday, a memo leaked to The Sunday Times said that a “significant body of Home Office officials dealing with serious and organised crime” are lobbying against the proposal. They believe it is “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective,” it said.

The paper also reported that everyone buying a mobile phone might have to produce a passport at the point of sale and register their identity. More than half of the UK’s 72 million mobile phones are “pay as you go”; they are used by terrorists and criminals so they can remain anonymous. The proposed database would have limited value to the security services if these pre-paid phones were not included.

Ministers insist there are no plans to store the content of phone calls, text messages or emails. The most draconian option under consideration would allow the police and intelligence agencies to keep records on who communicated with whom and when.

Yet as again with ID cards, there would  be ‘function creep’, which the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee already realises:

“We are concerned about the potential for ‘function creep’ in terms of the surveillance potential of the national identity scheme,” the cross-party committee concluded. “Any ambiguity about the objectives of the scheme puts in jeopardy the public’s trust in the scheme itself and in the government’s ability to run it.”

The MPs said they accepted the government’s assurance that ID cards would not be used as a “surveillance tool”. But they demanded further assurances that people would not find themselves subject to unnecessary intrusion from the authorities.

“We recommend that the Home Office produce a report on the intended functions of the national identity scheme in relation to the fight against crime, containing an explicit statement that the administrative information collected and stored in connection with the national identity register will not be used as a matter of routine to monitor the activities of individuals.”

With the government’s recent, ignominious, final defeat over legislation to hold people without charge for 42 days, there may be less of a taste in New Labour to push for fights over ‘surveillance society’ legislation. If not, let there be no doubt that such a database would  be abused, by agency after agency. Just look at the way in which the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has been thoroughly abused. The pressure really can’t be lifted from Jacqui Smith, because this must be stopped at all costs. The alternative is living under her vision of society.

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One response to “Home Office vs Jacqui Smith

  1. I was incandescent with rage when I heard about this government further attempt to erode what is left of our civil liberties with the announcement of this bill. This has to be one of the most outrageous intrusions into the private affairs of the public I have ever witnessed and we should all be up in arms.

    Once again, the terrorist threat has been used, yet in 3 years, not one person has been killed by a terrorist. Meanwhile 450 plumbers have died as a result of asbestos related diseases. Criminals and terrorists will find away around this database, meanwhile as usual, 99.999% of the public will pay the price by losing our rights to privacy in what we say and what we do, even when it is legal.

    We are considered to be one of the most spied on nations in the world league table, even worse (or better depending on your perspective), than China and Russia. That pretty much says it all. As you so rightly say, this has to stop and stop now. We must act, before the state has complete control over our lives.

    I have covered this issue on my blog and included a draft letter which people can download, modify and then post to their MP, which, for all intents and purposes, makes clear that if the MP supports this draconian bill, they will lose a vote. It is a small start, but it could gain momentum if publicised and supported. http://www.power-to-the-people.co.uk/2008/10/public-call-time-big-brother-britain

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